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One third of Tory MPs in ‘blue collar conservatives’ group went to private school

Jon Stone
·3-min read
<p>The group includes a disproportionate number of former pupils of prestigious public schools</p> (Getty)

The group includes a disproportionate number of former pupils of prestigious public schools

(Getty)

A group of Tory MPs claiming to be “blue collar” workers is in fact packed with politicians who went to private school, it has emerged.

Around a third of the Blue Collar Conservatism caucus went to fee-paying schools, compared with just 7 per cent of the general population, analysis by The Independent found.

Some of the MPs, whose personal bios on the group’s website emphasise their working-class credentials, even have parents who were knights of the realm or high court judges.

Top public schools attended by members of the group include Eton, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Harrow, Westminster School, and Dulwich College.

The MPs were accused by critics of variously “exaggerating their humble backgrounds and trying to hide their privileged upbringings” for political gain. Their party is keen to shake off its elite image and present itself as working class to keep voters in former Labour heartlands won over by Boris Johnson’s Brexit stance.

The group, whose website lists 158 MPs as members, is led by founding MP Esther McVey and chair Ben Bradley, who both attended private schools. Of its 11 senior MPs, including its two leaders and nine vice chairs, 36 per cent went to private school.

The group’s website includes bios of its members emphasising their salt-of-the-earth credentials, but often omitting significant details.

MP Sir Peter Bottomley is described as having come “from a lorry driver to the House of Commons”, but his bio omits to mention that he attended Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge, and that his father and grandfather were both knights and attended the same Oxbridge college as him.

The group’s bio for MP Johnny Mercer states that he “achieved ‘average’ results at school” and so “employment – not university – was the way forward in such a large family” – but not that the school in question was prestigious public school Eastbourne College. Privately educated MP Robert Courts is described as having been “self-employed for 12 years prior to entering parliament”, omitting to mention that he was self-employed as a barrister.

Some 75 per cent of the MPs in the group went to university compared with 50 per cent of school leavers today and a far lower proportion of the adult population as a whole, with popular former occupations including lawyers (at least 19 of the MPs) and accountants.

Some of the MPs in the group have had genuinely blue collar occupations and ordinary or even disadvantaged upbringings, but those who had genuine blue-collar jobs are heavily outnumbered by middle-class professionals.

At least 30 per cent of the MPs in the group attended private school, meaning the MPs are actually more likely to have attended one than the average MPs in the Commons. The Sutton Trust calculated after the 2019 election that 29 per cent of all MPs attended a fee-paying school.

Labour MP for Wansbeck Ian Lavery, a former coal miner, told The Independent: “It should come as little surprise that Tories are exaggerating their humble backgrounds and trying to hide their privileged upbringings. Nobody who, through lived experience, understands the difficulty could possibly have voted against supporting children on free school meals last week.

“It is shocking to see the lengths these people will go to, to exploit the genuine concerns of ordinary people for their own political ends. Communities like those I represent have been held back by generations of Tory misrule and need real change that will deliver opportunity not the opportunism of those that have caused the problems.”

The Blue Collar Conservatism group had not responded to request for comment at the time of publication.

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